Friday, July 28, 2023

A false distinction. . .

Undoubtedly you have heard Baptists complain about creeds and confessions and smugly insist: “There’s no creed but the Bible.”  It is a false statement.  This is a myth and an illusion.   “No creed but the Bible” is itself a creed.  But even this creed is not quite enough.  As has been shown in the contrast between Saddleback and Rick Warren and the Southern Baptist Convention over the issue of the ordination of women as pastors, it is the Bible understood particularly.  There is great irony in this conflict.  Warren has insisted that it is because Baptists have no creed, no definitive statement can be made about ordaining women or not ordaining them.  His argument has been that the unity of the Southern Baptists has always been in their common mission and not in a particular confession (of understanding of Scripture).  The divisions in the SBC would be overcome, in the view of Warren, if doctrine were given second place to mission.

Missouri Synod Lutherans ought to be familiar with such reasoning.  We have long had our own tensions created by those who think mission is the priority and those who think that doctrine is the priority. However, what Warren got wrong is what our own LCMS gets wrong.  Confession is not an enemy of mission but its very foundation.  In the past, Baptists were not hindered by their robust confession and faith but energized by it.  The same was certainly true for Lutherans.  What we confess is not an enemy to the work of evangelization, church planting, and foreign missions.  For both the Baptists and the Lutherans, pitting one against the other has become our undoing.  The work of mission expects confession and unity among those who share that confession.  Confession presumes mission and expects that the truth we hold is not ours only but for the sake of the world for whom Christ died.  It is always when we pit these things against each other that we suffer.

I cannot speak for the Baptists and only watch this development with curiosity but as a Lutheran I can certainly admit that in our past and what should be in our future is not the competition or conflict between our robust confession and mission but its flourishing.  The faith we share is not some dumbed down version of the faith.  We do not confess a minimalistic Christ or a minimalistic faith but the fullness of Christ and the Gospel of Him crucified and risen along with the fullness of a mission energy that rejoices to share what we have been given.  Perhaps the debate among Baptists in this regard is just starting and it could be that the debate among Missouri Synod Lutherans in this regard has merely moved to the back burner.  Whatever the case, the undoing of our identity and our work comes exactly from the presumption that doctrine must take second place to mission.  While there might be a legitimate complaint among some that mission has been replaced by mere survival in our tumultuous times, that is another issue entirely and not one solved by surrendering the fullness of our confession for the sake of numbers.  Those numbers, my friends, are not worth having.

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